Denise A. Walen (2002), 'Constructions of Female Homoerotics in Early Modern Drama', Theatre Journal, 54, pp. 411–30.
The cross-dressed heroine was a popular convention in early modern drama.1 In his book Gender in Play Oil the Shakespearean Stage, Michael Shapiro lists nearly eighty texts that include the character type.2 Women dress as men in plays to help lovers or to follow them, to avoid rape, scandal or death, (although it can also be an expeditious means to pursue death, as in Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy), to freely travel the countryside, and, as is the case of Moll Cutpurse in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl, simply by choice. Women in male disguise in early modern dramas, when encountered by other female characters, can also signify the representation of a same-sex attraction. Roughly thirty plays in 1580-1660 use cross-dressing to construct scenarios of female homoerotic desire. However, not all cross-dressed heroines evoke a female-female erotic tension, and not all female homoerotics issue from disguised female characters. Why then is the disguised heroine such a common plot element in plays that evoke female same-sex desire? What benefit does she offer, or what use is the convention to early modern playwrights? And, how do these plays signify their homoerotic constructions?